I was warned, but can a pheasant really do so much damage? The average hen weighs just 2lb and is conveniently wrapped in soft feathers – certainly no match for a two-tonne Ferrari.
Perhaps, unless the bird is falling 100ft from the sky, gliding kamikaze-like towards a beautifully sculpted bonnet. Standing next to the GTC4Lusso on the edge of Dartmoor, I watch nervously as the local shoot fires off another barrage from the field opposite.
Replacement body panels are never cheap but this particular model features a £11,520 glass roof, plus a triple-layer paint job priced at an eye-watering £15,360. Judging by the thud as each bird meets terra firma, it’s unlikely either feature would provide the necessary protection.
As the beaters put wave after wave of birds to flight, I’m dancing around the Ferrari like a crazed goalkeeper in a penalty shoot-out. Feathers and lead shot are raining down but somehow the Ferrari remains unscathed.
This is Lower Brook Cottage, a remote hideaway on the Fulford estate, near Cheriton Bishop. A thatched house of almost unfeasible beauty, it has remained in splendid isolation for centuries. Apart from the shoot, the only other visitor is a wren that has sneaked into the kitchen. Wisely, it has decided not to venture skyward.
The wooden-beamed rooms are from the Miss Marple school of interior design, with a huge Aga stove radiating warmth in the kitchen. The heating system has tested my fire-lighting skills to the max, while any hope of a phone signal were lost half a mile back up the lane.
The GTC4Lusso T isn’t the best car to tackle the dirt track to the front door but it’s about as close as Ferrari gets to an SUV. The ‘4’ refers to the four seats rather than four-wheel drive. It also has an engine under the bonnet rather than behind the driver, which means there’s actually space for a proper boot.
A replacement for the much-maligned FF, this beautiful sports car is also one of the few contemporary shooting brakes – a name that dates back to the horse-drawn vehicles of the early 19th century, built to carry hunting parties.
A cross between a coupé and an estate, great shooting brakes of the past include the Volvo 1800ES, Reliant Scimitar and the BMW Z3M Coupé, all now coveted by collectors. More recently, the Mercedes CLS63 and the Jaguar XF Sport Brake continued the trend.
The Ferrari is the most exotic and the expensive shooting brake. Moderately practical by Italian standards, it offers an exhilarating turn of speed, which I intend to put to good use across the wilds of Dartmoor.
Nearby Okehampton is just a short drive further west along the A30 from Cheriton Bishop. I turn off the dual carriageway at Whiddon Down and head down the A382 towards Moretonhampstead. With no summer hordes to contend with, the only major obstacles are meandering sheep.
First stop is one of the National Trust’s oddest country houses, Castle Drogo. This granite fortress was gifted to the organisation in 1974, the first 20th century property on its books. Dramatically situated above the Teign Valley, it was designed on a grand scale and set amid beautiful countryside.
Unfortunately, this being Dartmoor, the weather has relentlessly battered the ramparts over the last 100 years. A multi-million pound refurbishment is on-going, with scaffolding across some of the walls. The castle remains open at weekends for guided tours – it’s worth a stop just to walk along the river.
Further south, hungry travellers are spoilt for choice in and around Drewsteignton. The traditional Drewe Arms is packed during the peak season but a haven on a cold, winter’s afternoon like this. The Fingle Bridge Inn is perched next to the River Teign, which today is a raging waterway.
From here I take a detour via Moretonhampstead to Becky Falls, voted Devon’s top beauty spot. Set in an ancient valley, the waterfalls have been developed to offer a range of family activities, with an adult ticket costing £8.25, or a family special at £30.
Not far away is Widecombe-in-the-Moor, via the B3387 at Haytor Vale. The granite tor of Haytor Rocks is a “must see” for most holidaymakers and an iconic Dartmoor vista for photographers. To avoid the crowds here, I’d suggest Hound Tor, just to the north, which is far less busy.
Pretty Widecombe is quintessential Dartmoor – tearooms, beautiful church and sheep meandering across the village green. I park Ferrari’s prancing horse badge in the square and watch the wild ponies nibbling grass. Enchanting. And the car’s not half bad either.
Oliverstravels.com (Brook Cottage), Nationaltrust.org.uk
Ferrari GTC4Lusso T
PRICE £200,165 (£255,058 with options)
ENGINE 3,855cc V8 petrol turbo
TOP SPEED 199mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 3.5sec
FUEL ECONOMY 24.8mpg (EU Combined)